Saturday, July 4, 2015

Young Mrs. Cavendish & the Kaiser's Men: Review

Leading off for my entries into Rich's Crimes of the Century 1987 version is K.K. Beck's Young Mrs. Cavendish & the Kaiser's Men, a historical romp through a spy-laden San Francisco shortly before America's entrance into World War I. Mrs. Cavendish is Maude Teasdale Cavendish--currently a society columnist for The Globe, but she has hopes of doing more serious newspaper work. When "Hindoo" henchmen working for German spies kidnap her in a case of mistaken identity, Maude sees a chance to finally get her byline beside something more important than who wore what and when. After all, she's a reporter with the unique opportunity to report first-hand on the startling incident.

Little does she know that she'll land smack in the middle of the biggest story of her life....but it will be one that she won't be allowed to tell. It concerns a conspiracy that goes beyond kidnapping to include blackmail, international treachery and villainy, and reaches beyond the U.S. border into Mexican territory. The cast of characters cover foreign and domestic spies, a beautiful German opera star, a blustering owner of a German shipping company, Maude's flirtatious ex-husband, her brother George who sees spies under every bush, and a monocled and scarred Austrian baron. There will be daring escapes and rescues, chases by automobile (at the breakneck speed of 25 mph!), a train crash, a new type of plane, and a few German zeppelins just to add a little zest to the proceedings.

This should have been a delight. Beck gives us such a wide and interesting group of period characters--from Maude as the "new" woman, recently divorced and working in a typical male-only field, to Louise Arbour, young debutante whose skill at the wheel of her fancy motor car gives her the unchaperoned freedom to go where she wants and to break the stereotypes of the spoiled rich girl to all the standard players in a spy thriller spoof. Beck also provides a profound sense of time and place through her descriptions San Francisco following the 1906 earthquake and fire and the references to the Arizona/Mexican border countryside. There is plenty of action to be had as well. But, for me, it all just fell a little flat. My attention wandered and I just wanted to get to the end and see how it all worked out--not from a sense of eagerness, but simply to be done. The novel starts out very promising and I enjoyed my introductions to the major characters. And the ending is quite exciting and interesting as well--but the bulk of the action didn't keep me interested. Most of the ratings on Goodreads (82%) are at 3 stars or higher, so I'm ready to admit that I've managed to miss something in my reading. But my rating stands at ★★ and a half. 

This counts for the "Woman in the Title" square on the Silver Vintage Bingo card as well as several other challenges. For the Monthly Motif Challenge category "Stand Up"--we have Maude standing up for her right to do a "man's job" as well as Maude and her friends standing up to the German spies.


TracyK said...

The premise sounds good. Maybe I would like it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for playing Bev, sorry this didn't hold your attention though.

fredamans said...

Sorry to see this fell flat for you. Great review!

J F Norris said...

I read Beck's Fu Manchu spoof (REVENGE OF KALI-RA , I think is the title) and thought exactly the same things you point out here. Should've been frothy and fun. Instead it was patronizing and contemptuous of Rohmer. Plus nearly all of the characters were lame stereotypes. I always see through writers who have contempt for what they are making fun of. I've always felt that a true genre parody should point out the absurdities of the fictional trappings while at the same time celebrating them.

Unknown said...

The book cover caught my eye on the Cloak & Dagger linky. I am confused as to if this is an old book, or written as HF. Too bad it didn't live up to expectations.